The inventor of this British board game was a Birmingham munitions worker named Anthony Pratt. For him, it was a way of passing the time during air raid blackouts during WWII. While other families were huddled together uncertain of what the night would bring, Anthony was busy dreaming up characters and weapons for his game, while his wife sketched out the floor plan.
The object of Pratt’s game was to visit the various rooms of a manor house depicted on the board, then ask other players questions to work out who had killed Dr Black, the weapon that had been used and the room where the murder took place.
In the 1940s, murder mystery and crime novels were very popular and social sets used to gather in one another’s homes for a parlour game called “Murder”, in which guests would creep around and simulate the murder of one of their own.
That was the seed, and Pratt came up with rest. He applied to patent his board game in 1944, but it was a further three years before the patent was granted.
Originally, the game had ten characters and nine weapons (including a bomb, poison, a hypodermic syringe and, of course, the infamous candlestick. Some of those early characters included Nurse White, Mr Gold and Mrs Silver.
The rooms depicted in the original patent are the same as today, the only exception being that there were originally 11 rooms and now there are ten, as the Gun Room was removed.
Having approached the game manufacturer Waddington with his idea, the game first went on sale in 1949. Pratt sold the royalties for the overseas version of his game in 1953 for £5,000 after being told by Waddington that the game wasn’t selling very well and in fact, wouldn’t sell at all abroad.
In America, the game was re-named “Clue” and marketed by Parker Brothers, now under the Hasbro umbrella. The game has sold over a hundred and fifty million copies and still lurks in the Top 10 of annual board game sales.
It has inspired a rompy spin-off film in 1985 (made with three different endings), a popular CD-ROM, and has led probably not a few players to consider a career in the detective arts.
To play Cluedo/Clue you needed only to know a bit about the malfeasance. When a handful of guests gathered at a Victorian mansion, their host was murdered.
There were six suspects (Professor Plum, Mrs Peacock, Miss Scarlet, Mrs White, Mr Green and Colonel Mustard), six murder weapons (lead pipe, wrench, knife, rope, candlestick, revolver), nine rooms and 324 possible combinations of the crime.
Cards that designated a murderer, a weapon or a crime scene location were secretly selected at the beginning of the game, and placed in the ‘Murder Envelope’. The rest of the cards were divided up, each player chose a suspect to be, then rolled the dice to move through the mansion.
Upon entering a room, the player made suggestions as to the murder scenario, and if they held any of the suggested information, other players revealed their cards – to the interrogator only.
Players noted the results of their Q&A on their handy detective notepads, making very sure no one stole a glance at their deductions. And if someone cared to throw other players off the scent, he could misdirect the poor devils by suggesting scenarios only he knew to be impossible.
When a player finally felt confident solving the whodunit, he jotted down his guess and took a private look at the murder envelope’s contents.
If he was wrong, the game was over for him, and the other suspects carried on. If he was right, he wore the crown of “Super Sleuth” – at least until the next game.
Though Cluedo/Clue players have never known why the host was killed (the villain’s “motive” in sleuth parlance), everyone in the mansion looked very suspicious indeed.
Ms Scarlet was the vampy femme fatale, Colonel Mustard was huffy and monocled, Mrs White was the resident maid – so it’s possible she was just fed up with her vocational choice, Professor Plum looked dangerously booksmart, Mrs Peacock looked dangerously snooty and Mr Green, well . . . female players always had crushes on Mr Green, and though he looked too cute to do something as dastardly as commit murder, one just never knew.
Playing Cluedo/Clue was a cutthroat business (perhaps literally, if the knife was the weapon of choice), and it remains so more than 50 years after the game’s invention. It takes high-rolling and good interrogation skills, and if you’re especially savvy, maybe a little reverse psychology.
Of course, for the dirty players out there it was always easier just to distract everyone while getting a sneak peek at the cards before they made their way in the sealed envelope.
Over the years, numerous themed Cluedo games have been released including Harry Potter Cluedo, Beano Cluedo, Star Wars Cluedo and The Simpsons Cluedo. Characters in the game remained the same until 2016 when Hasbro killed off housekeeper Mrs White and introduced Dr Orchid (a biologist with a degree in plant toxicology).
In 1994, Waddington’s Games, the present-day owners of Cluedo tried to track Pratt down to celebrate the game’s 50th anniversary. They didn’t have a clue where to look until a cemetery official in central England used a special investigation hotline number and told Waddington’s officials that there was one Anthony Pratt buried there a few years prior. His tombstone read “Inventor of Cluedo”. Case closed.